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Costume designer Eman Zaki poses with me in her studio in Doqqi.
Gilded Serpent presents...
Cairo 2005

How to Eat, Drink, Sleep, and Breathe Raqs Sharqi
Part One of Four
by Andrea

Last year I visited Cairo for the first time and attended the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, but decided that I could learn more if I took private dance lessons.  Being the intrepid traveler that I am, I returned on my own in 2005, in the month of September, to enjoy all that Cairo has to offer during more favorable weather.  Following are my experiences as I related them to my close friends and family.

Wednesday September 7, 2005
Marhaban friends and family!  Iíve been in Cairo for 4.5 days and so far there really isnít much to tell.  Iíve been trying to arrange some budget accommodations so that I can save my money for more important things (like costumes!) and also Iíve become sick with a cold.  Stomach is OK, alHamdullillah, but this cold has me taking things easy.

As of yesterday and through the end of my trip, Iíll be staying with my American friends, Erika and Matt.  They will be teaching English in Egypt for 2 years and they generously offered me their extra bedroom in their swanky flat in Nasr City, a northern suburb of Cairo.  Itís way nicer than my apartment in Oakland!  They even have a dishwasher, washing machine, satellite TV, a maid, and free Internet access!  Of course, you still have your bumpy streets, unyielding drivers, donkey carts, and live fowl for sale on the sidewalk, even though this is a somewhat upscale suburb of Cairo.  The

Free-range poultry in Nasr City.

inside and outside of the place where Iím staying are so contradictory!   Itís a bit far from the center of Cairo, but itíll give me the impetus to learn how to use the metro, and Iíll get to know another part of Egypt.  Even if I take a cab into downtown Cairo every day, Iíll still save money for private lessons and costumes.  I thank Allah for Erika and Matt!

Today is an historical day in Egypt!  The first ďrealĒ election with actual opposition candidates is taking place.  Iím trying to stay abreast of this important event from TV news, but the American and British news sources barely talk about it.

  Itís all over the Arabic news stations, but I donít know enough Arabic to understand.  Iíve been trying to get a man-on-the-street point of view of the election, and there hasnít been any consensus.  Some people favor Mr. Mubarak, saying that even though heís not the ideal leader, heís the best of whatís offered.  Other people are sick of him and just want to see a new face, while still others think the election is rigged in favor of Mubarak and therefore, wonít even bother voting. 

My friends' swanky apartment in Nasr City.
Last Saturday I went to a wedding in Cairo, or rather to the wedding reception.  It was the wedding of my friend Kamalís business associateís family.   If there was a zeffa (wedding procession) I didnít see it.   We arrived fashionably late after having dinner, which was a good idea because there wasnít any food at the reception.  It was in a hall with a live band, and the bride and groom were each sitting on a dais.  They looked like the unhappiest married couple Iíd ever seen! At one point, the singer was egging them on to kiss, and they finally did, but it was just a quick peck on the cheek.  We received a box of pastries and a soda (yes, even we wedding crashers.)   I got some video footage of the people dancing.  I tried to be discreet; so, I may not have gotten the clearest shots.  I was impressed at how much fun the people were having in the absence of alcohol!  There was a cute little girl dancing on our table, and she had some moves that took me years to learn!  Itís great to see how the dance just comes so naturally to the Egyptians.

  Even some covered-up ladies were cutting a rug and shimmying.  If anyone needs proof that raqs sharqi is not a dance of seduction, Iíll show them the footage from this wedding.   

Yesterday, I went to the shop/factory of costume designer Eman Zaki.  Sheís very famous now, and her designs are cutting edge.  Sheís designed costumes for Dina!  Her garments are very well designed, using special fabrics and unique details.  I picked out three fabulous numbers that will make you all drool!  Her costumes are a bit pricey, but I think they will be worth it.  Seriously, Iíve never seen some of the fabrics she used.† She incorporated some nice bead work (I love beads!) and spectacular trimmings (gold chain mail, zig zags, loops, pearls, and Swarovski crystals).  Wish I could afford more from her!  I would have gone to another costumer like Crazy Move or Al-Wikalah, but I was beat because of my cold.   Could it be from a lack of fresh vegetables and fruit as Iíve been eating mainly meat and bread? I wonder. 

Today, Iím just enjoying the television at Erika and Mattís.  Itís like Belly dancerís heaven, there is so much good stuff to watch!  I switch from old footage of Om Kalsoum or Farid al Atrache, to Arabic pop videos, old Arabic movies with dancing, Arabic soap operas, and, of course, BBC News.  I could spend the whole day in front of the TV!  In fact, Iím sick enough that I could, and without feeling guilty.

I havenít seen any dance shows yet because Iím doing research to see whoís dancing where. Hopefully, the next time I send you an update, Iíll have seen some shows on which to report.

Coming soon!
Part Two- Dance Lessons in Cairo
Part Three- Current Cairo Happenings
Part Fout- The End of the Trip

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Ready for more?
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2-11-06 What Kind of Snakes are Good for Dancing? by Neferteri
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First, you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.

2-6-06 The Peace Belt comes to Tucson by Lucy Lipschitz
But it matters more, I think, that this dance can be used to stimulate thinking and discussion, and even to help feed and clothe other human beings.





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